Bernd Lhotzky
The Gallery Concerts III: Rag Bag

VÖ: 27.06.2024

Genre: Piano Jazz



ACT 9993-2, 614427999320
A solo piano work that spans more than a century of jazz

Bernd Lhotzky / piano

Recorded at the ACT Art Gallery, Berlin
Cover art “Welle” (detail) by Manfred Bockelmann

Bernd Lhotzky has been Germany’s most important exponent of classic jazz piano for the past three decades. However, his approach to music from the early days of jazz on his new solo album ‘Rag Bag’ is anything but museum-like. He says: ‘What fascinates me in music, art and life in general are the contradictions and contrasts, the syncopations, the cracks in time.’ ‘Rag Bag’ is a journey between times and worlds, a patchwork of the most diverse motifs, styles and associations. The nucleus of the album's music is Ragtime, one of the earliest forms of jazz. Lhotzky says: ‘To this day, what I love about this music is that it is so warm, life-affirming and undisguised and simply bursts with vitality and honest joy.’

Lhotzky’s contribution to the rediscovery of jazz from the twenties to the fifties has been immeasurable, in particular his role as the artistic director and creative fountainhead of the internationally celebrated band ‘Echoes of Swing’, but also as an organizer and promoter of concerts and festivals. And it all started with Ragtime. Lhotzky says: ‘This music was my route into jazz. And what still fascinates me today is how warm, life-affirming and unpretentious about this music is. I love the jazz of the early days because it is bursting with such vitality and honest joy.’ And when Lhotzky looks back at the decisive events which fired his enthusiasm for early jazz, Ragtime was there first. He has previously spoken of the time when as an eleven year old, an uncle gave him a Fats Waller record, the moment which sparked off his love of Harlem Stride piano. But already at the age of nine he was taken to a concert of music by Scott Joplin, and that was his very first introduction to this music.

Over the years, his enthusiasm for the roots of jazz, which are also his own musical roots, fuelled Lhotzky's desire as composer and pianist to focus his activity on working at the intersection between contemporary jazz and Ragtime. When he told ACT founder Siggi Loch about his idea, the latter invited the pianist to a concert in the intimate surroundings of his ACT Art Collection in Berlin - and made sure that the performance was recorded. The resulting album ‘Rag Bag’ is the third in the ACT series ‘The Gallery Concerts’. These are live chamber music recordings in a special and exclusive setting, and ‘Rag Bag’ follows on from two duo recordings: one with pianist Johanna Summer and saxophonist Jakob Manz, two of the greatest rising stars of German jazz, and the other with the Swedish jazz greats Jan Lundgren and Hans Backenroth.

Bernd Lhotzky’s journey to the origins of jazz also reflects on the present day. ‘Rag Bag‘ has been a real liberation,’ says Lhotzky. ‘The solo format allows me to be completely uncompromising. This is me, just me, all the time.‘ His journey to the origins of jazz is therefore also a reflection on Lhotzky’s own career until the present day: ‘My improvisations are a patchwork of different motifs and styles that have shaped my musical personality since I started playing jazz at the age of nine.‘ One of Lhotzky's strongest influences is the pianist Scott Joplin, a pioneer of crossing boundaries and blending genres in his time - whose compositions between jazz and classical music, with all their subtlety, grace, beauty and artistry, form a stark contrast to the tragic life of their creator.

In many respects, ‘Rag Bag’ is a minor musical miracle. Firstly, because Lhotzky had only eight weeks to prepare this complex programme. But above all, paradoxically because ‘Rag Bag’ sounds so modern. Yes, Lhotzky may be playing music whose melodies, procedures and rules are over a hundred years old - ‘The ‘Linden Tree Rag’, for example,’ he says, ‘is based on a piece from 1850, and is more like French salon music.’ What makes Lhotzky's take on this kind of music feel so modern is his incredible instinct for improvisatory freedom. His compositions - from ‘Synkope schlüpft’ (the syncopation slips) to ‘Yara's Lazy Strut’ to ‘Maple Syrup’ or ‘The Host's Request’ - take beautiful structures and simple melodies and transform them into self-contained mind games where intuition rules. Without ever departing from the Ragtime framework, he manages to be completely free within it. ‘Out Of Bondage’ may serve as a prime example. It briefly echoes Scott Joplin's best-known piece ‘The Entertainer’ as if in a dream, only to immediately lead into a dramatic prelude, almost reminiscent of Grieg or Debussy in its impressionism and its fractured line, leading to a sudden explosion at the end.

The result is a very special and exciting jazz album with the accessibility and cheerfulness of the early jazz entertainers, but we see them in a completely new light, both because of his original concept, and because of his deep knowledge of the history of the music which reaches right up to the present day. ‘Rag Bag’ has immediacy, the tingle of a live performance and the inspiration of the moment. A minor miracle!
Bernd Lhotzky
For three decades now, Bernd Lhotzky has been regarded as Germany's foremost ambassador of classic jazz piano. This is based not only on a spectacular technique acquired from classical conservatory training, but also on his reputation as a bridge builder between the music's past and present. In this rôle he has extended an invitation to rediscover jazz styles from the 1920s to the 1950s through his numerous performances and recordings as a soloist and in a duo, as concert or festival promoter, or as the pianist responsible for creative stimuli in the 'Echoes of Swing' quartet. In the course of his musical development, Lhotzky has consistently broadened his musical horizons, despite his continued deep involvement in early jazz as well as classical music. As a result, his present projects could hardly be more diverse: Rag Bag is a modern collage all about ragtime. The Shakespeare sonnets that he put to music for Birgit Minichmayr combine elements of folk music, lieder, pop music, jazz and chanson. In his tonal illustration of Krabat by Otfried Preussler, the watermill's wheel is propelled by multiple interwoven tiers of twelve-tone progressions.